The U.S. Navy’s next-generation surveillance drone is a whopper, with an incredible wingspan that stretches 130 feet (40 meters), about the same as a Boeing 757 airliner.
The drone, dubbed Triton, recently completed its ninth flight test earlier this month. The unmanned surveillance vehicle, built by defense giant Northrop Grumman Corporation, is midway through a process known as “envelope expansion,” which involves conducting a series of tests to validate the aircraft’s ability to perform at different altitudes, speeds and under different weight scenarios.
So far, engineers have tested the Triton’s endurance in flights that lasted more than nine hours, at altitudes reaching up to 50,000 feet (15,200 m). The large drone has also performed doublets, which are maneuvers that assess the vehicle’s ability to recover from simulated turbulence.
The test flights are being conducted at Northrop Grumman’s manufacturing facility in Palmdale, Calif.